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Tag Archives: 5×7

Dangerpants Photography will be selling prints, both framed and unframed, at Passiflora Market this coming Saturday, December 1st, at Annex Theatre. Proceeds will go to Annex Theatre, or will be split between Annex and the model, for solo photos. We will have digital and film cameras (including the Korona 5×7 camera) and lights set up for booth portraits.

The 5×7 format is a bit of an odd duck. It’s a surprising amount larger than 4×5, in terms of film area (and makes for a good contact print size), and it’s substantially smaller (and thus easier to carry around; cheaper to purchase) than 8×10. 8×10 is a great choice when gigapixels are required — you can blow up an 8×10 negative to billboard proportions and it’s still quite clean.

However, I have so much experience with 35mm sized lenses that I found myself getting lost thinking about which lens length in 5×7 is equivalent to what length in 35mm. I know, it’s a horrible crutch, but I instinctively know that (for instance) 85-100mm is the length of lens I want for shooting portraits in 35mm.

So, to help get it right in my head, I just sat down and calculated out the actual lens to film relationships between a few different lenses. This of course as I ponder whether I want to find more 5×7 lenses (they’re shockingly expensive for being moribund technology).

Here, then, are the numbers I just worked up, for posterity.

35mm Film (43.27mm diagonal)
Lens length % of film diag
24mm 55.4%
50mm 115%
85mm 196.4%
100mm 231%
5×7 Film (222mm diagonal)
Lens length % of film diag
120mm 54%
210mm 94.6%
360mm 162%
500mm 225.2%

Today, I was photographing some buildings in downtown Seattle, when I was approached by a security guard, told photography on building property was not allowed, and asked to leave. I was set up in a public space (a Privately Owned Public Open Space), a sort of public park contained on the building grounds. The security guard was insistent even after I reminded him that I was in a public space (which Seattle Municipal Code 23.49.017 paragraph F section 2 specifies must be treated as a public park in terms of free speech and access), so I ended up packing up the 5×7 camera while an insolent petty authoritarian stood over me, suspiciously watching everything I did. This process takes about 10 minutes, so the uncomfortable stare lasted for far too long.

Seattle’s Privately Owned Public Open Spaces

Seattle has a law on the books (referenced above), which allows buildings to receive certain perks (notably reduced restrictions on square footage, but presumably also tax breaks and other incentives) if they include some public amenities. In the case of the building in question, they have posted plaques that explain that it offers hill climb amenities (ie, elevators) and a public open space, accessible by elevator. The public open space is not conspicuously marked, and is indeed somewhat hard to find. If you didn’t know it was there, you would probably never suspect it or be able to find it.

Many buildings contain spaces like this (for a list, see this Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections page). The municipal code referenced above, 23.49.017, lays out in paragraph F, section 2, that the public space is effectively a public park:

Hours of Operation. The open space must be open to the general public without charge for reasonable and predictable hours, such as those for a public park, for a minimum of ten (10) hours each day of every week. Within the open space, property owners, tenants and their agents shall allow individuals to engage in activities allowed in public parks of a similar nature. Free speech activities such as hand billing, signature gathering and holding signs, all without obstructing access to the open space, or adjacent buildings or features, and without unreasonably interfering with the enjoyment of the space by others, shall be allowed. While engaged in allowed activities members of the public may not be asked to leave for any reason other than conduct that unreasonably interferes with the enjoyment of the space by others.

I’ve bolded the important part: you can do in these spaces the things you would normally be allowed to do in a park. That includes, among other things, setting up a camera and taking pictures.

US Copyright Law and Buildings

After I was forced to pack up my gear, I talked to the building management. They apologized for the security guard’s behavior, and after some conversation, we agreed that photography on building property is actually allowed. Their policy is that photography of the building is not allowed, and of course the drones working in the office aren’t there to set policy, they just have to enforce what their bosses say is the case.

While we were discussing the matter, one of them found a reference to the Federal copyright law, which basically says that buildings built before 1990 have no copyright rights, and can be photographed or reproduced as desired. Buildings built after 1990 have some copyright claims, but only if photographing a part of the building which isn’t publicly-accessible. That is, if you take a picture of the outside of the building where any member of the public is allowed be, the building designers have no copyright claim against you. If you’re photographing something which requires private access, you probably need permission (and good luck getting that).

This article at explains the rights of photographers to publicly-viewable buildings pretty clearly, under the rules in 17 U.S. Code § 102 and 17 U.S. Code § 120. The bottom line is that you can photograph the external features of a building and you’re not violating copyright law.

Post-event Analysis

I did the wrong thing today. When the security guard approached me, I allowed him to control my photography, and I lost a pretty cool looking shot. I’ll never know if it was a good shot or not. I wasn’t sufficiently aware of my rights in the easily-confused situation of being on private property which is also a public space. In an era of increasing curtailment of rights, I feel pretty strongly that you should always stand for your rights. I regret now that I wasn’t completely clear in understanding my right to be where I was, doing what I was doing, and I let a petty thug with a rented badge shut me down. What, ultimately, would he have done? Called the police? I suspect they are more clear on the rights of people to be in public spaces.

Because I understand that he was doing what he thought his job was, and the building was pursuing policies which are dictated from on high (the property management company manages many buildings in Seattle, and their policies are surely set by the central office), I’m not going to file a complaint with the city, or name them publicly. If something like this happens again, however, you can rest assured that I will complain and do what little is in my power to force them to comply with the laws as they stand. I will also not allow them to stop me from doing what I was already legally doing, and next time I’ll be getting that shot.

A few weeks ago, I had planned to meet with a friend and fellow photographer to go down to Fisherman’s Wharf in the early morning. We were hoping to catch some low-level fog for some lovely atmospheric shots of fishing boats. She wanted to practice with the large-format camera, and I was happy for any excuse to pull the 5×7 out.

Unfortunately, our outing was only partly successful. We definitely got some 5×7 shots, and they’re pretty good, but the fog was resolutely absent that day. Only a day or two later, the fog was out in full force, and I managed to snap a few DSLR shots, but it’s just not the same. I didn’t have the big camera with me.

Then, this morning, I noticed the fog was pretty thick as I prepared to get breakfast. I put the breakfast dishes back in the cabinet and moved with alacrity to retrieve the camera and load it into the car along with its accessory bags and a hastily assembled tripod. Even as I watched at home, the fog seemed to be lifting slightly, so I didn’t want to delay.

I arrived at Fisherman’s Terminal and things were looking good. I didn’t dally, though, and hastily set up the camera. Even as I worked, I could see a brightening in the sky that suggested the fog was breaking up. I snapped a test-shot with a digital camera, and decided the exposure was close enough. I checked focus, glanced briefly at the framing, gave a mental “Good enough!” and slid the film holder into the camera. One click later, as the fog was melting before my eyes, and I had my one and only shot of the morning. I could only hope it was any good. The fog was completely gone a minute or two after I’d tripped the shutter.

The film has been developed (along with failed batch of prints of a different negative, after I missed some kind of contamination on my contact printing glass), and I should know tomorrow how it turned out. In the mean time, here is the test shot, which was captured with an Olympus OM-D EM-5 set to Monochrome, shooting with a Panasonic 20mm f/1.8 pancake lens. The only processing was to crop the image slightly to 5×7 proportions and scale it down.

If you’ve ever processed sheet film in open trays, you’ve likely come across the same problem I had: negatives get scratched if you try to process more than one at a time (I’ve read that it’s possible to do, but I’ve never been successful). The temptation was always there, though, because processing one negative at a time is deadly slow. With my one water bath (the bathroom sink), I couldn’t presoak negatives at the same time I was washing processed negatives, for fear of contaminating the unprocessed film with fixer. Processing a sheet of film was taking about 30 minutes — now multiply that by a reasonable 5-15 shots from a day’s shoot, and processing film became a very daunting prospect, to the point that I still have some film in holders from more than two years ago that needs to be processed.

Looking into alternatives, I had read about the BTZS tube processing system, but it seemed expensive, and like more of a commitment than I was willing to make given how infrequently I process large format film. However, I came across another idea recently, and decided to give it a try: open-tube processing. The idea is not that you enclose the film and chemistry inside the tube for daylight processing, but rather that the tube is just there to keep the sheets of film from rubbing up against each other and scratching the emulsion as they’re processed in a darkroom. I acquired a piece of 2″ PVC drain pipe (about $8 at the hardware store), and cut it into four 7.5″ long pieces (with lots left over), drilling a few holes around the perimeter of each tube to see if I could avoid the water mark reported in the article where I’d first read about doing this. The holes are almost certainly superfluous, but they’re there, and they’re not hurting anything.

In any case, I recently processed ten sheets from Thanksgiving. It only took about two hours, which is a huge improvement. Processing is exactly like normal open-tray processing, but you fit the film into the tubes (emulsion facing inward) before the presoak, and I found that trays intended for 8×10 processing (actually about 12×10) are big enough to fit four tubes at a time. The tubes are transferred between trays like you’d expect, though I now use 100% agitation, rolling tubes against each other, to ensure even chemistry coverage. The only trick beyond the actual using of tubes that I’ve discovered is to shift each piece of film around inside its tube while in the water bath, so that there’s a thin film of water between the sheet and tube; this avoids the water mark. Once the film slides easily in its tube, you’re golden.

Of course, this speedy processing of film means that I can discover much more quickly just how much I have to learn about shooting with the 5×7 camera — I tried some fancy focal plane shifting tricks for these shots, and only some of them worked. The pictures were exposed and developed perfectly, but the focus… ugh. Some are better than others, but suffice to say that shooting large format is sufficiently different from shooting with an SLR or rangefinder that I can’t consider myself proficient yet. With everything zeroed and flat, I’m fine, but using swings and shifts? Lots to learn.

Must be time to go shoot some more 5×7, and get some learning done!


I won’t tell you how long it’s been since I last developed 5×7 film, because the number of (ahem) months is frankly a bit embarrassing. This is what I get for having no deadlines.

Regardless, tonight was productive: 8 of 12 exposed negatives processed. Once they’re dry, I can start scanning.

In case you’re interested, one of these negatives produces a scan of 12195 × 17073 pixels (roughly: the size changes depending on how closely you crop; those numbers are from a sample scan I did last year) at 2400 DPI. The scanner I have, an Epson V700, is capable of much greater resolution, but I kind of figure a 208 megapixel image is good enough to start with. Practically speaking, a 5×7 negative represents about 400 megapixels of data, depending on your film and development process.

So, you know, if you need all the megapixels, large-format is a good choice.